Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2016

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Jon Ralston:

State GOP can’t get act together

Having returned from a holiday recess — I made no appointments nor did I hold any pro forma sessions — I am bursting with musings, especially about the elephantine problems of the state GOP:

• Goofy Old Party, Part 1: The Nevada Republican Party ended 2011 on a nationally embarrassing note, capitulating to a New Hampshire secretary of state (!) and the Republican National Committee, thus relegating its presidential caucus to irrelevancy. Less than a week into 2012, the prospects for a resurgence are as bleak as Gov. Brian Sandoval’s odds of being on a presidential ticket.

As gamely as Republican officials and campaign operatives try to argue the Feb. 4 caucus still matters, this is pure hype. As many national pundits have pointed out, Mitt Romney’s nomination seems more inevitable than ever — and he may have it closed out in Florida on Jan. 31, which would have been 17 days after Nevada if Republican officials here hadn’t pathetically genuflected to Concord and D.C.

Now, either Nevada will be an afterthought on the Romney coronation tour or it is likely to be ignored by any remaining candidates because the Silver State is seen as Mitt Country. GOP Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian says she hopes for a 70,000-voter turnout at the caucuses, which would be 46,000 fewer folks than the Democrats drew in ’08. But that figure — less than 20 percent — may be wildly optimistic if the race is indeed seen as over.

• Goofy Old Party, Part 2: Speaking of Madame Chairwoman, after a buoyant spring and summer and then a shaky fall, Tarkanian entered a winter of discontent, as none of her good deeds went unpunished.

She was elected June 18 in a landslide over a Las Vegas Sands-anointed candidate, beloved by the faithful who didn’t remain faithful long. When she had the good sense to propose same-day registration for the caucus, the loon brigade struck back. She essentially had to make a deal with the devils — the RNC, the crazies — to retain her chairmanship in October.

But after having her expenses questioned and realizing, as so many have here and elsewhere, that being party chairwoman is akin to being warden of an insane asylum, her husband’s decision to run for Congress gave her a welcome escape hatch.

Tarkanian announced her inevitable resignation Thursday – her statement is here - and Danny Tarkanian will begin his quixotic fourth bid for office next week. (I wonder if Mrs. T points out to Mr. T that she is 2-0 in political bids and he is 0-3.)

There is no discernible succession plan inside the GOP. The party favorite might be longtime activist James Smack, but he is seen by some as a money-killer. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki? Team player, but state chairman is no way to further your elected career. Ex-Las Vegas Councilman Michael McDonald? Forever interested, but would he bring in cash?

Only one certainty: Whoever succeeds Tarkanian will live to regret it.

• Goofy Old Party, Part 3: With the Santorum Surge engendering hope in the Not-Mitt Party and among political reporters who want a race, I must remind folks here about his Nevada ties. Santorum has hired staffers in case he is still viable come Feb. 4, but one of his ties that really bound him is his friendship with former Sen. John Ensign.

How friendly were they? Enough so that when Doug Hampton, whose wife was Ensign’s wife’s best friend and the senator’s mistress (that never disappoints for creepiness, does it?), reached out to Santorum, the ex-Pennsylvania senator showed that friendship was thicker than any of his supposed moral values.

“I sent a note to Rick; I begged Rick to call me, to talk to me before, and he didn’t,” Hampton said on “Face to Face” less than a month after Ensign confessed the affair.

Hampton had reached out to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly, who ignored his story, and he also emailed Fox contributor Santorum, who did not ignore him and instead tipped Ensign that Hampton was going public, resulting in that infamous June 16, 2009, news conference.

Is this relevant? Well, Santorum surely would ask what anyone else would do for a friend in the same position. Good question.

One answer: As Santorum did with Anthony Weiner and Ensign did with Bill Clinton, he could have told Ensign to resign, lest he damage the party and the conservative movement. Oh, and his family, too.

But that’s not what Santorum, who portrays himself as an avatar of family values, did. As Rachel Maddow put it this week, “Rick Santorum had a craven little bit part in what was a big very craven scandal.”

But even as he tried to keep it all in the family, Santorum’s betrayal of Hampton and loyalty to Ensign, ironically, catalyzed the end of the Nevada senator’s political life.

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